Austin, Dreams, and Scepticism

Adam Leite

in The Philosophy of J. L. Austin

Published in print December 2011 | ISBN: 9780199219759
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191730818 | DOI:
Austin, Dreams, and Scepticism

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Austin maintained that standard waking experience is phenomenologically distinguishable from dreaming. In unpublished lectures delivered at UC Berkeley (one source for Sense and Sensibilia), Austin supported this claim by citing contingent, empirical facts about dreams. This chapter argues that if these factual claims and Austin’s broader epistemological framework are correct, then Austin provides a compelling empirical response to external world scepticism. Given Austin’s account of epistemic reasons and epistemic priority requirements, there is nothing problematic about making use of empirical background knowledge about dreams in the course of determining that we are awake. It might be thought that familiar sceptical arguments would undercut Austin’s position. However, using Barry Stroud’s reconstruction of Descartes’s dream argument as a stalking horse, this chapter argues that if Austin’s factual claims about dreams and his broader epistemological framework are correct, then the dream argument for external world scepticism—and, by extension, several other prominent sceptical arguments—won’t even get off the ground. Any compelling sceptical argument will be an empirical matter.

Keywords: J. L. Austin; scepticism; dreaming; epistemic priority; Barry Stroud; epistemic reason; Descartes

Chapter.  20546 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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